Newsletter: Bedbugs and thin-skinned columnists. Why?

A report about bedbug infestation at the New York Times prompted a spat over Twitter and email between a conservative columnist and a professor at George Washington University.
(Richard Drew / Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

File this under “Fiddling While Earth Burns” (which seems to be something of a running theme nowadays): A George Washington University professor tweets a borderline dad joke about New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, who emails the professor and invites him to say “bedbug” to his face, and internet upheaval ensues. The president weighs in. National news interviews are granted. Think pieces are published. I’m leading off a newsletter with it.

And on the L.A. Times’ Op-Ed page, the offending tweeter, David Karpf, writes a piece casting himself as the victim because Stephens supposedly misused his power by copying Karpf’s boss on his email, indicating he expected the professor to be punished. Karpf writes that the enduring lesson here “is about power — how we build it, how we deploy it, and how we use it responsibly,” but perhaps the most important takeaway comes from this assurance near the end of his piece: “This story will be forgotten in a week.”


Now, turning our attention to matters what will not soon be forgotten (I hope)...

L.A. can have extremely cheap, clean energy if a DWP workers’ union lets us. This is almost too good to be true: The city was poised to strike a deal to use solar energy at the rock-bottom price of 2 cents per kilowatt hour for the next 25 years (slightly higher rates would cover battery storage). But the Department of Water and Power’s largest union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, objected, so for now we’re stuck with more expensive fossil-fuel energy. That’s outrageous. L.A. Times

In 2016, 4.5 million votes in California were effectively erased, and not because of fraud. We’ve all heard by now that Hillary Clinton won California by more than 4 million votes, and somehow that’s an argument for keeping the electoral college. But what about the 4.5 million people here who voted for Trump? Or for that matter, the millions in Texas who preferred Clinton? Their votes were essentially erased by the electoral college. New York Times

Reclassifying all “gig economy” workers could destroy newspapers. Last month, the L.A. Times editorial board faulted Assembly Bill 5 for trying to force companies like Uber and Lyft to give their drivers full-time worker benefits. The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board is a little more full-throated in its opposition: The bill, it says, would put many publishers out of business by forcing them to treat their delivery contractors as employees. Sacramento Bee

Has Trump’s cheese finally slid off his cracker? Professional opinion writers, conservatives included, are warning that the president’s behavior has crossed the threshold from controversial to “not normal conduct for a well-adjusted adult.” But Jonah Goldberg has another explanation: Trump’s Trumpiness is becoming more obvious as his situation grows more precarious. L.A. Times

How Republicans can “own the libs” on gun control: GOP strategist Scott Jennings encourages Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bolster the national background check database, pass a “red-flag” law and call for a resolution condemning gun violence by both white nationalists and (no, really) antifa troublemakers. L.A. Times

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